Medina Spirit Trainer Baffert Denies Derby Winner Was Drugged

Medina Spirit Trainer Baffert Denies Derby Winner Was Drugged men raise trophy at race track (L-R) Trainer Bob Baffert, jockey John Velazquez, and owner Amr Zedan of Medina Spirit raise the trophy after winning the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 01, 2021, in Louisville, Kentucky. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

By Sandy Fitzgerald | Monday, 10 May 2021 12:14 PM

Hall of Fame horse trainer Bob Baffert insisted Monday that Medina Spirit, his barn's seventh Kentucky Derby winner, was never treated with a steroid drug found in his system during post-race testing and that he never thought he'd have to be fighting for either his reputation or that of his horse.

"Because of the new regulations, they're testing these horses at contaminated levels and it's been a horrible experience," Baffert, who has been suspended from Churchill Downs, told Fox News' "America's Newsroom." "It did not happen."

Saturday, Baffert's organization learned that Medina Spirit had tested positive for the steroid betamethasone, a drug used to treat pain and inflammation in horses.

Baffert has promised to be fully transparent with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission but insisted Monday that the horse "has never been treated" with the steroid.

However, he described the medication as being a "legal therapeutic" drug, and said that the amount of drug that was reportedly found in Medina Spirit "wouldn't have any effect on the horse anyway … but that horse was never treated with that, and so that's the really seriously disturbing part of it … we have the documentation."

Baffert was not asked about a contention from former President Donald Trump that Medina Spirit is a "junky," nor did he comment on the slam.

For now, Medina Spirit's win over Mandaloun is standing, pending other tests, but Churchill Downs officials said if the findings are upheld, then his win be invalidated and the second-place horse will be declared the winner.

Baffert said Monday that his organization has hired investigators, but "sometimes you never find out. It's just a tragedy what happened in this race."

The trainer also commented that officials test at the levels of picograms, which equal one trillionth of a gram. He described this measurement as being comparable to a grain of salt in an Olympic-sized pool and said there are many ways his horse could have come into contact with the steroid rather than it having been deliberately given to him.

Medina Spirit reportedly tested positive for having 21 picograms of the medication.

"We live in a new world now," Baffert said. "These horses don’t live in a bubble. They’re on an open farm. People are touching them. He went from the Derby to after the Derby everybody’s out there touching them. I mean there’s so many ways these horses can get contaminated and when they’re testing at these really ridiculously low levels."

Baffert said Monday the investigation into his horse will take months, but he insisted that "we did not cheat" to win the Derby.

"I want to protect my legacy," he said. "I’ve trained great horses. I’ve trained the best horses that have run through there. My record proves it. This is horrible what has happened. The horse never got that medication. It’s an injustice to the horse. He’s a great horse. He ran hard. He deserved to win that race and it kills me because these horses are like my children and for something to happen to him like that is horrible but we have to deal with it and hopefully it will get resolved."

However, Medina Spirit is the fifth horse trained by Baffert to fail a drug test, reports Fox News, including in 2018, when Triple Crown winner Justify was found to have tested positive for the banned substance scopolamine before the Santa Anita Derby, a prequalifier for the Kentucky Derby. However, officials later determined the positive test may have come from Justify eating contaminated food, and the case against him was dismissed.

Baffert, meanwhile, called Churchill Downs' statement about banning him "pretty harsh" and said he has not heard anything about Medina Spirit's status for racing in the Preakness Stakes this weekend.

He also called the scandal a "cancel culture kind of thing" but said he hasn't been "told anything" so he's preparing to run Medina Spirit and a second horse in the Baltimore race.

Meanwhile, Mandaloun, Hot Rod Charlie, and Essential Quality, the top challengers to Medina Spirit in the Derby, have all bowed out of the Preakness, leaving Medina Spirit as the current 7-2 favorite, reports CBS News.